Working with Victims of Sexual Assault

Many of us, myself included, have been riveted by the recent confirmation hearings of Judge Kavanaugh for a seat as Supreme Court Justice. It is not my intention here to speak to his guilt or innocence of the accusations made against him regarding sexual misconduct because that has not been determined by any court of law, but it is extremely pertinent and timely to address the trauma of sexual assault as well as the secondary trauma that can be induced by the way in which the such reports are received.

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As I watched Dr. Blasey Ford give her testimony, I was struck by her strength in her position juxtaposed by her frailty in her voice at the same time. As a therapist, I was aware of her refreshed pain and fear, as though it were happening all over again when she recounted events that took place 36 years ago.

The “Me Too” movement has emboldened our collective awareness to the enormity of this issue and the deeply personal painful gravity of sexual assault survivors among us. We know that Dr. Blasey Ford’s story is one of many, each one unique, but also similar to the lifetime of pain inflicted. There is also fear of further shame potentially cast in the telling of such trauma to others who may not safely regard them in their stories.

It is clearly our job as therapists to make sure that we provide the utmost level of security and safety to our clients who hold such experiences deep within their hearts for varying lengths of time. If it was weeks or decades ago, the level of horrific memory is substantially the same. Therefore, it’s imperative that we hold for them comparable levels of deep, authentic respect for who they are in the moment and the memories they unfold. To not conscientiously provide this extra layer of unwavering acceptance and belief in them is to risk further damage. To be true healers is to be steadfast in our open-heartedness and intentional respect for those we serve.

RFT Book Cover

Respect-Focused Therapy (RFT) is a foundation on which all modalities and techniques used in therapy can be strongly grounded, in order to produce sound, effective outcomes. This approach offers clients the opportunity to gain experiential understanding of being respected, possibly for the first time, from the therapeutic relationship and then be able to heal old wounds by creating more respect for self and others in the therapeutic process.

 

Suicide Prevention

September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. According to  the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the number of suicides in this country alone are staggering and increasing yearly as documented in the last several decades.

“Nearly 40,000 people in the United States die from suicide annually, or one person every 13 minutes. This exceeds the rate of death from homicide and AIDS combined. More people die by suicide than from automobile accidents.”

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The National Association for Mental Illness (NAMI) says the yearly rate for suicide is even slightly higher, over 41,000 per year. Both organizations readily agree that the reasons and precipitating factors are complex, including depression, anxiety and other mood disorders often combined with environmental factors such as trauma, loss or bullying. They site the following as more common warning signs of personal behavior to watch for in order to prevent a potential suicide:

  • Threats or comments about killing oneself, also known as suicidal ideation
  • Increased alcohol and drug use
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Social withdrawal from friends, family and the community
  • Dramatic mood swings
  • Talking, writing or thinking about death
  • Impulsive or reckless behavior

These are by no means inclusive of all behaviors of persons who commit suicide, as the situations for each are complex and unique. It is true that not all suicides are preventable and that “survivor’s guilt” and the devastation for families and friends of someone who does commit suicide is immensely burdensome. If you or anyone you know has experienced suicide or a suicide-related situation, you’re probably acutely aware of the rippling pain it causes.

The opportunity to be better informed about suicide is available to all of us. To be more skilled at observing, listening, caring and being involved as a community will make us all a little safer as we navigate and occasionally stumble in this world.

 

National Suicide Prevention Hotline, 1-800-273-TALK (8155)

 

RFT Book Cover

Respect-Focused Therapy (RFT) is a foundation on which all modalities and techniques used in therapy can be strongly grounded, in order to produce sound, effective outcomes. This approach offers clients the opportunity to gain experiential understanding of being respected, possibly for the first time, from the therapeutic relationship and then be able to heal old wounds by creating more respect for self and others in the therapeutic process.

 

What Does It Mean to Be Resilient? on GoodTherapy.org

Girl walking up the hill on a long meadow surrounded by trees.

Please check out my latest article on GoodTherapy.com.

“What Does It Mean to Be Resilient and Can Anyone Do It?” discusses maintaining resiliency during times of loss and despair when finding and maintaining a sense of meaning and purpose is crucial.

RFT Book Cover

Respect-Focused Therapy (RFT) is a foundation on which all modalities and techniques used in therapy can be strongly grounded, in order to produce sound, effective outcomes. This approach offers clients the opportunity to gain experiential understanding of being respected, possibly for the first time, from the therapeutic relationship and then be able to heal old wounds by creating more respect for self and others in the therapeutic process.

 

Depathologizing Mental Illness

During this Mental Illness Awareness Month, we will focus on the stigma surrounding mental illness.

The term mental illness historically to refers to any abnormality that deviates a person’s behavior from social norms. Over the last few centuries, mental illness has slowly moved to a more scientific, medical framework (conditions were initially associated with spiritual demonology). This has eliminated much of the cruelty imposed on people with mental illnesses, but newer forms of branding and misunderstandings around such human challenges persist.

Anyone who has ever experienced symptoms commonly associated with the concept of mental illness, such as depression, anxiety or more complex disorders, knows all too well the added burden of being labeled “bipolar,” “borderline” or “schizophrenic,” as do their families. These labels and stereotypes carry lead-weighted misconceptions in the public eye that often follow people for entire lifetimes, affecting possibilities for meaningful employment, education, relationships and social engagement. The shortage of adequate funding for treating those who have little or no income sadly means that individuals with mental illness may end up homeless or in the penal system, which further demonizes their existence.

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Many of us who work in the mental health field have found it imperative to work toward “depathologizing” the concept of mental illness because it is so laden in the model of “sickness” or “disease” that it is isolating and oppressive. The preferred and more healing approach is to look at the wide range of emotions, beliefs and behaviors  encompassed by such labeling as human responses to life stressors by people who are coping as best they are able. We want to give respect and dignity to who they are completely, and appreciate their humanity in such a way that they can also learn to honor themselves in this world as whole beings—perhaps only needing support along the way.

 

RFT Book Cover

Respect-Focused Therapy (RFT) is a foundation on which all modalities and techniques used in therapy can be strongly grounded, in order to produce sound, effective outcomes. This approach offers clients the opportunity to gain experiential understanding of being respected, possibly for the first time, from the therapeutic relationship and then be able to heal old wounds by creating more respect for self and others in the therapeutic process.

 

A Flashlight in the Darkness: Honoring Pain and Loss on GoodTherapy.org

man holding lantern stands in dark forest with fog
Navigating through loss is not an easy process with a clear-cut path. For those suffering a loss or treating a client currently struggling with grief, please see my newest article on GoodTherapy.org.
When we’re in a dark place, how can a “flashlight” be used to soothe and heal emotional pain? How can we can begin to reconcile and come to terms with a painful loss?

RFT Book Cover

Respect-Focused Therapy (RFT) is a foundation on which all modalities and techniques used in therapy can be strongly grounded, in order to produce sound, effective outcomes. This approach offers clients the opportunity to gain experiential understanding of being respected, possibly for the first time, from the therapeutic relationship and then be able to heal old wounds by creating more respect for self and others in the therapeutic process.

 

We’re All a Little Crazy

The other day I came across a blog post about a national mental health awareness movement called “We’re All a Little Crazy.” Numerous celebrities in sports and the performing arts lead this movement. Many stories are shared about personal experiences with mental illness, from bipolar disorder to PTSD through #SameHere and a sign language gesture which points one’s thumb towards oneself and the pinky toward another.

The concept behind this movement is to disarm the stigma of mental illness as being something foreign, weird, or outside of a “normal” existence. In fact, many, if not most of us, have at one time or another experienced some level of depression, anxiety, trauma, or loss that would put us, at least temporarily, somewhere on the continuum between mental health and mental illness. The emotional distress within that continuum obviously varies in intensity and manifestation, but to be not mentally well at some point within one’s lifetime is arguably a part of the human condition.

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As mental health professionals, it should be especially incumbent upon us to be acutely aware of the additional burdens and pain caused by the stigmas placed on people with mental illness, particularly those that invite bullying or estrangement. Most importantly, we need to be in continuous check on ourselves as we may also fall into the elusive cracks of stigmatization (even if unintentional) of a person diagnosed as borderline, Schizoid-affective, or with Bipolar disorder who come with great vulnerability into our space for assistance and healing. By honoring their stories of struggles and accomplishments as significant and as ordinary as our own, we are welcoming them down a path to healing and recovery. After all, we’re all “a little crazy!”

RFT Book Cover

Respect-Focused Therapy (RFT) is a foundation on which all modalities and techniques used in therapy can be strongly grounded, in order to produce sound, effective outcomes. This approach offers clients the opportunity to gain experiential understanding of being respected, possibly for the first time, from the therapeutic relationship and then be able to heal old wounds by creating more respect for self and others in the therapeutic process.

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Navigating the Holidays Therapeutically

We know that the clinical data and real life clinical experience clearly support the unfortunate truth that these seasonal holidays bring many clients heightened anxiety, depression, and thoughts and actions of harm to self and others. This phenomenon has been occurring regularly for decades, if not centuries. While we know that some is related to the nature of the actual season itself (i.e. the shorter days of daylight), it is thought that the holidays themselves also contribute to this rough period of time experienced by so many. The expectations of joy and giving often becomes burdensome to those who feel limited on material funds or sources of happiness in their personal lives.

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Another area that creates tension for many is the interpersonal context of the season, or more specifically, family. The holidays bring with them some Hollywood, picture-perfect ideals of family get-togethers and, as we know all too well, they’re not always that way. Conflicts and feuds, old and new collectively, intensify and heighten the probability and noted occurrences of domestic violence in the midst of attempted festivities. Illness, physical or mental, or losses, such as divorce or death of a loved one, in the family can produce clouds of sadness and despair. Many do not have any family at all. So trying to create joy around these real life situations are increasingly challenging, if not seemingly impossible, depending on the freshness and intensity of the circumstances.

So therapists have a greater responsibility during these times. It rests upon us to have keener awareness to the possibilities of more difficult and, perhaps, more dangerous times for our clients. We need to more diligently assess for suicidal and/or violent ideations and be prepared to intervene swiftly and effectively as needed. Obviously, this season can and does also cause more stress for us as healers. Therefore our wellbeing is even more vitally significant than usual. As we teach our clients how to be more kind and gentle to themselves and those they love, so should we carefully listen to our own words of wisdom. May this season bring all of us peace and calm reassurance that we are valued.

 

RFT Book Cover

Respect-Focused Therapy (RFT) is a foundation on which all modalities and techniques used in therapy can be strongly grounded, in order to produce sound, effective outcomes. This approach offers clients the opportunity to gain experiential understanding of being respected, possibly for the first time, from the therapeutic relationship and then be able to heal old wounds by creating more respect for self and others in the therapeutic process.